Eric Fryer is an easy player to overlook. Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th round of the 2007 amateur draft, Fryer was traded to the Yankees in February of 2009, and then to the Pirates in June of the same year. He didn’t reach high A ball until the age of 23, and AA until age 25. He put up some big numbers here and there along the way, but there were better catching prospects ahead of him at each stop of his journey. Here are Fryer’s numbers since joining the Pirates’ organization:
Fryer had an excellent year at Bradenton in 2010, and didn’t miss a beat early last year at Altoona. He was then promoted to Indianapolis, where he put up an OPS of .823 during his brief stay with the Indians. He was called up to Pittsburgh in late June, at the peak of the Pirates’ catching cataclysm. Fryer looked promising in his brief stint with the Pirates, but received very little playing time. When he was returned to Indianapolis in August, the wheels came off, with his walk rate the only offensive category that survived.
Fryer hit well for one and a half years straight before his drastic decline at the tail end of last season. His BABIPs for last year look like this:
Apr - .300, May – .418, Jun – .326, Aug – .194
For whatever reason, Fryer has a tendency for extreme fluctuations in his batting average on balls in play. While he benefited from a BABIP of .418 in May, no hitter is going to put up respectable numbers in a month when he posts a BABIP of .194. There is no doubt that Fryer had a bad month of August – his K % really spiked – but his decline was no doubt exacerbated by a miserable stretch of luck.
Defensively, Fryer has put up some pretty strong numbers for a converted catcher. He threw out 37% of attempted base stealers in 2009, 28% in 2010, and 27% in 2011. While he was charged with 12 passed balls in 2010, he cut that to 1 last year.
Every time I have had a chance to catch a fleeting glimpse of Fryer, he has made an impression on me by doing something out of the ordinary. It could be a quick release, a display of superior arm strength, a surprise pickoff throw, or a burst of unexpected speed on the base paths ; this guy possesses some serious athleticism for a catcher. This may be due in part to the fact that he is still fresh, having only caught 224 games in his career, but Fryer regularly does things on the field that you do not usually see from a catcher.
While it is understandable that the Pirates would seek out safety in numbers when it comes to their catching situation this off-season, it also seems a bit surprising that they seem to hold Fryer in such low esteem. They even designated him for assignment prior to the Rule 5 draft in order to create roster space should they choose a player. They have brought in Rod Barajas as their starter this year, and both Jose Morales and Jake Fox to compete with Michael McKenry for the backup role. This means that Fryer will almost certainly start the year in Indianapolis, and then face the inevitable incursion of Tony Sanchez at some point during the year.
I would be happy with Fryer as a backup to Sanchez, Cabrera, or whoever our starting catcher turns out to be a couple of years from now, but it appears likely that roster considerations will force him out of the organization before then.